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Women Helping Women

Women are underrepresented in the planning profession, but some are working to change that.

Veena A. Kutler and Annette F. Simon, 02/26/2009

This monthly series of articles describes the many steps and occasional missteps we have taken in building our financial advisory business, Garnet Group LLC. Currently, Garnet has eight staff members, more than 90 clients, more than $300 million in client net worth under advisement, and offices in Bethesda, Md., and Boston. Veena Kutler, CFA, and Annette Simon, CFP, are the managing principals in the Garnet office in Bethesda.

Our firm, Garnet Group, is a owned, managed, and staffed by women--all of our eight staff members are female. Beyond our own ranks, more than 90% of our clients are either women on their own or married couples. From our perspective, women are heavily involved in financial planning--but we are far from the norm for our industry.

Only 25% of all CFPs and 29% of NAPFA members are women. Knowing that financial planning is a challenging career that uses both left- and right-brain skills, which can allow for significant personal freedom and provide a good, steady income, we, and many other female advisors, are dismayed that more women are not entering the field. We're doing what we can to change the male-female imbalance in the profession.

NAPFA's Women's Initiative
Toward this end, Annette joined last year with two other NAPFA colleagues (Jean Sinclair and Cheryl Costa) to take the reins of the NAPFA Women's Initiative, a program developed to attract, support, and develop women as leaders within our profession. The NAPFA Women's Initiative was launched by Peggy Cabaniss several years ago when she retired from her role as NAPFA chairman.

Like us, Peggy was confused and saddened by the underrepresentation of women in our ranks. She convinced the NAPFA board to fund a trial initiative to open the lines of communication between women within NAPFA and to make room on the various conference agendas for women's networking sessions. Since its beginning three years ago, the Women's Initiative has hosted women's roundtables and presented panel discussions of some of the specific challenges and rewards women from across the country and all types of practices have found in our profession. These sessions at NAPFA's National and larger regional conferences have been universally well-attended and well-received--and have even included a few men who want to support the growth of women in the financial planning field.

Last year the NAPFA board approved and funded a continuation and expansion of the Women's Initiative--allowing us to bring in speakers and sponsor women-only networking events at the National and regional conferences. Already in 2008 at the West and Northeast/MidAtlantic conferences the Women's Initiative presented a very successful workshop for women advisors. 

At the 2009 NAPFA National Conference (June 3-June 6 in Washington, D.C.) the initiative will sponsor an educational session, open to all and presented by Deena Katz, who is an associate professor of financial planning at Texas Tech University and a longtime financial planning practitioner. In addition, there will be a women-only networking session featuring a presentation by Eleanor Blayney, who has had a fascinating and storied career in financial planning and is about to enter another new phase of it.

Eleanor Blayney
Blayney had been practicing as a planner in the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C., area for about three years when she teamed up with Greg Sullivan, Jim Bruyette, and Peter Speros in 1991 to form Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros and Blayney. Sullivan and Bruyette came from the financial planning group at Ernst & Whinney, where they learned the ins-and-outs of serving high-net-worth clients. Speros was a professional football player before earning his CFP and becoming a financial advisor. SBSB's goal when it opened was to reach $100 million under management in five years. The firm exceeded that goal in three years and continued to grow rapidly, attaining $1.5 billion in client assets under management over the next 15 years.

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